DIY Websites: Should You Hire A Web Designer?

Do it yourself? Shouldn’t I be telling you how this is a terrible idea, and you should never attempt this? I am a web designer after all, so you might assume I’m in the business of convincing you that you need my services, no matter what stage of business you’re at.

Except I don’t work like that, and never will.

Once, when I was a broke, desperate student, I applied for one of those door to door sales jobs where I think I was meant to be selling Sky box sets or the like. After several interview rounds, I managed approximately one hour of my first trial day before walking away without a second thought.

Frankly, I’m a terrible salesperson.

This is mostly due to the fact that I would much rather lose a sale than sell someone something they don’t need. I think the door to door people were quite relieved to watch me go, seeing as how I couldn’t get through their sales script without visibly squirming uncomfortably.

It wasn’t that there were outright lies in it, but the whole thing was a jumble of half-truths, misleading information and negative facts left out altogether. So maybe not an actual lie, but definitely what here in Germany I would call “kuhscheiße”.

So when I started out in business for myself, I had one simple rule – absolute honesty, even if it costs me business. I’m happy to sell my services, but not my soul in the process.

Which brings us back to the main point of this article: do you need my services (or any web designer's, come to that)? And my answer to that would be… it depends.

When you’re new in business, do you need a web designer?

Let’s face facts: if you find the internet a strange and confusing place and have only just about learned to handle email, the DIY route is probably not for you, no matter what stage of business you’re at.

But in an age where your mother, or even grandmother, is just as likely to be on Facebook as you are, that’s a smaller and smaller group of people.

And frankly, you no longer need to touch a line of code to be able to create a website these days. You can be up and running in minutes with a DIY website builder like Squarespace, or with a little more technical know-how you can purchase hosting and a domain and set up your own Wordpress site.

I’ve met plenty of creative men and women in business who did just that. Sure, it takes significantly more time to figure everything out for yourself, but it also saves a couple of thousand dollars or more.

I don’t need to tell you that a few thousand dollars can be a huge investment if you’re just starting out, particularly as a freelancer or solo entrepreneur. We may not have investors or much of a financial safety blanket to begin with, but one thing we do have is time.

That time is still a precious business resource, but spending some of it investigating DIY website options is definitely not a waste. Even if you eventually decide it’s not for you and you’d rather hire someone right from the outset, you’ll have a much better understanding of your options and what you need – always useful when you’re trying to find the right web designer who can create what you need.

So, when should you hire a web designer?

The answer to this is not as complicated as some would have you believe: I would say the moment you see that your DIY website is holding you back, that’s the time to invest in a professional designer.

This might happen sooner than you’d expect – I’ve had clients come to me with websites they built themselves less than six months earlier.

The important point as far I’m concerned, is that those six months gave them the chance to test their idea, service or product.

Instead of putting themselves under financial pressure immediately, they’re able to come to me with the confidence that their investment in their website is likely to pay off, because they’ve had six months to experiment and acquire their first few customers, even with their DIY website.

It’s just that their ability to really grow their business is now being hampered by the fact that their customers are put off by the poor, amateur looking design. Or potential clients simply can’t find what they’re looking for, because the information hasn’t been organised in a way they understand.

Other times, particularly when I work with graphic designers, or photographers, (i.e. creatives with a very good understanding of how to present information in a visually appealing way), it might even just be that they simply need a new feature added onto their existing website, like a newsletter signup that allows them to collect visitor email addresses.

Eventually, as the business grows, most freelancers and entrepreneurs reach the stage where their time begins to be more valuable to them than money. Even if your DIY site has served you perfectly well up until this point, you’ll come to the realisation that your time is better spent on growing your business still further, and focusing on your areas of strength, rather than spending precious time on website updates and maintenance that a professional could do in half the time.

(Unless of course, you realise you enjoy the website work more than your original business – which is exactly what happened to me when I launched my photography business over a decade ago!)

The One Exception – When You Definitely Need A Web Designer

There’s an exception to every rule of course, and the exception to the DIY route is ecommerce sites.

I cannot stress how bad an idea I think it is for you to try and do this completely by yourself. Ecommerce sites are very complex, with a whole bunch of potential pitfalls for the inexperienced entrepreneur.

Switching ecommerce platforms can be horribly expensive if you happen to choose the wrong one for your needs (very easy to do when there are so many options out there). There’s also a tonne of security implications when you’re collecting payment data on your website, so unless you love reading all about data encryption, you’ll definitely want to consult an expert.

Even ecommerce web design has it’s own special set of rules that you might not be aware of – I’ll frequently get requests for ecommerce designs that look completely different from your standard checkout process.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be unique of course, but the problem with trying to do that in an ecommerce setting is that you’re massively increasing the chances that your customers will get confused and won’t be able to find what they’re looking for.

For you bootstrapping ecommerce entrepreneurs out there, this still doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands on a professionally designed and developed ecommerce site however. A lot of the actual work can still be done DIY, but consulting an expert before beginning means you’ll know exactly what the best platform is for you, and won’t have to worry about security disasters or any of the other horrors that can befall the unwary entrepreneur.